After a big game Monday in a win over East Carolina, N.C. State’s Evan Mendoza was looking ahead to the rest of the week.
There were final semester exams to be taken – for Mendoza, his first coming in an Engineering Dynamics course.
Once the academic work was done, the Pack has an ACC series against Duke that begins Friday at Doak Field as N.C. State, ranked sixth in D1Baseball’s national poll, starts a run of 12 straight conference games to close out the regular season.
“We don’t have an easy schedule to finish up,” Mendoza said. “Anyone in the ACC can beat anyone else.”
The Pack has positioned itself well despite injuries to such key players as outfielders Josh McLain and Garrett Suggs and pitcher Joe O’Donnell. N.C. State is 10-6 in the ACC and 29-11 overall, and was eighth nationally in the most recent NCAA RPI rankings.
Our key is we’ve got to get healthy. This league is so unforgiving.
N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent
After its 6-1 win over East Carolina at Doak Field, the Wolfpack had won nine of its past 11 games and 13 of 16.
“We’ve played good all year but we’re playing really well right now,” said N.C. State baseball coach Elliott Avent. “Our key is we’ve got to get healthy. This league is so unforgiving. We’re a little banged up right now but we’ve got guys giving all they’ve got.”
McLain’s injury was a big one. The centerfielder, who was leading the Pack with a .350 batting average and was outstanding defensively, has been sidelined since suffering a hand injury April 17 against Georgia Tech.
Avent said he was not sure when McLain would return to the lineup, and the sophomore is questionable for the Duke series.
The Blue Devils (24-18, 9-12) are on an uptick. After being swept by North Carolina and then losing two of three to Wake Forest in March, Duke has won ACC series against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech and also had a 12-5 victory two weeks ago over No. 1 Miami.
The Blue Devils come into the N.C. State series off a 4-2 victory Wednesday over N.C. Central. Jack Labosky had a three-run homer in the first and Blue Devils coach Chris Pollard said his team’s infield defense in the game was the best it has been since he has been at Duke.
Mendoza, a sophomore from Sarasota, Fla., had a three-run homer and four RBI against ECU. With a 14-game hitting streak, the third baseman has raised his average to .350 to tie McLain for the team lead.
Rightfielder Brock Deatherage has reached base in 34 of his past 35 games and is hitting .338, and the Pack is batting .314 as a team, second in the ACC behind Louisville.
Mendoza was recruited as a right-handed pitcher but convinced Avent he could be used in the field and be an every-day guy at third.
“He’s a good hitter,” Avent said. “He came here as a pitcher but always told me, ‘I want to be a position player.’ Thank goodness I listened to him. I don’t always listen.”
Looking at the Pack’s remaining schedule, Duke is No. 61 in the RPI. N.C. State then goes on the road for three-game sets against Clemson (11th) and Louisville (second) before finishing up at home against rival North Carolina, which has been slipping of late but is 14th in the RPI.
Ryan Williamson, a junior left-hander, was the Pack starter and winner Monday against East Carolina, 28th in the RPI. Williamson (7-1) will be the Sunday starter against Duke, Avent said.
“We’re starting to get hot,” Williamson said. “Hopefully we can keep it going down the stretch. One thing about this team is we’ve got toughness. We don’t give up. It’s not over to the last pitch. We’ve played like that all season.”